Deporting Longstanding Undocumented Immigrants Would Cost U.S. Billions

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Fox News hosted Washington Times staff writer Stephen Dinan to criticize the Obama administration on border enforcement, arguing that the 2 million immigrants deported by the Obama administration is "the wrong number" to use to judge whether the administration's enforcement policies have been successful because very few of those deported were longstanding undocumented immigrants. However, an immigration policy focused on apprehending and deporting undocumented immigrants who contribute daily to the U.S. economy and have longstanding ties to the country would cost billions of dollars and stifle economic growth in the United States.

On Fox News' Your World with Neil Cavuto, Dinan dismissed the Obama administration's deportations record, stating that removing "people who've just arrived through the border" as opposed to the "rank-and-file illegal immigrants who are living here, working here, holding jobs." Dinan added that these long-term immigrants are "the people that you want to go after in the interior."

He continued:

DINAN: By my calculations, people -- of the 11 million people who are living and working in the U.S. as illegal immigrants in the last year or so, only about 1 percent of those were deported last year. So your chances of being deported under the Obama administration if you're actually inside the country are almost nil.

Right-wing media figures have repeatedly championed mass deportation as a policy worth pursuing to curb illegal immigration, even though such a policy has been criticized as untenable. Moreover, as studies show, an enforcement-only policy would result in substantial economic costs.

A 2010 study by the Center for American Progress (CAP) estimated that the United States would need to spend at least $285 billion over five years to deport all 11 million undocumented immigrants currently in the country. That figure includes the cost of apprehending immigrants, detaining them for an average of 30 days, legally processing them, and transporting them back to their birth countries.

CAP explained:

In these challenging economic times, spending a king's ransom to tackle a symptom of our immigration crisis without addressing g root causes would be a massive waste of taxpayer dollars. Spending $285 billion would require $922 in new taxes for every man, woman, and child in this country. If this kind of money were raised, it could provide every public and private school student from prekindergarten to the 12th grade an extra $5,100 for their education. Or more frivolously, that $285 billion would pay for about 26,146 trips in the private space travel rocket, Falcon 1e.

Put another way, $285 billion is a little more than what the federal government spent to maintain the Medicaid health program in 2013.

However, that cost to the federal government would be compounded by the loss of economic activity generated by undocumented immigrants.

In a 2010 CAP study, UCLA political scientist Raúl Hinojosa-Ojeda found that enacting a mass deportation policy -- which he described as "not a realistic policy option" -- would reduce economic output by 1.46 percent per year. He added: "This amounts to a cumulative $2.6 trillion in lost GDP over 10 years."

To get a better sense of what that means, the U.S. economy grew by an annual average of 1.9 percent in 2013. If that enforcement-only immigration policy was in place, that growth would be offset by a loss of 1.46 percent.

The fiscal impact of such a policy would also trickle down into individual states, specifically those with large populations of undocumented immigrants, where their contributions exceed billions of dollars in wages and tax revenue. According to CAP, these states' economies would shrink by billions of dollars:

The American Immigration Council went even further, estimating how many billions of dollars in revenue certain states would lose in economic activity if all undocumented residents were deported. California, the state with the largest population of undocumented immigrants, would lose an extraordinary $301.6 billion.

Others include:

And there's more:

  • A report by the Institute of Taxation and Economic Policy found that in 2010, undocumented immigrants collectively paid an estimated $10.6 billion in state and local taxes.
  • A Harvard University study found that undocumented immigrants were responsible for keeping the Medicare health care program solvent, adding about $14 billion a year -- even as native-born Americans accounted for a $31 billion deficit to the program. Undocumented immigrants contributed $115.2 billion more to the trust fund than they withdrew.

While it's undeniable that this policy would result in substantial economic losses, what would be even more devastating would be the effects on the lives of undocumented immigrants and other citizens who are presumed to be undocumented.

For example, soon after Alabama passed its HB56 anti-immigrant law, which was aimed at making life so difficult for undocumented residents that they "self-deported," an Immigration Policy Center study found that the law had "created an environment in which harassment, discrimination, and abuse are prevalent."

IPC reported:

It provides an invitation to police to single out people they suspect of being unauthorized, resulting in profiling and discrimination. Furthermore, private individuals and businesses have taken it upon themselves to demand proof of legal status from people they suspect of being unlawfully present. One woman reported that a clerk at a major discount store told her she needed proof of U.S. citizenship to fill a prescription. Human Rights Watch and others have reported that strangers make disparaging or abusive remarks in public to those who appear "foreign," and that Latino school children are being traumatized and bullied by their classmates.35 As one observer noted: "[The law] has turned a significant class of people, effectively, into legal nonpersons, subjecting them to a kind of legal exile. It has destroyed lives, ripped apart families, devastated communities and left our economy in shatters.

As the Pew Research Center found, the majority of undocumented immigrants are long-time residents of the United States, with nearly two-thirds having lived in the country for at least 10 years. Pew further reported that "at least 9 million people are in 'mixed-status' families that include at least one unauthorized adult and at least one U.S.-born child. This makes up 54% of the 16.6 million people in families with at least one unauthorized immigrant. There are 400,000 unauthorized immigrant children in such families who have U.S.-born siblings."

Though an enforcement-only policy would have the effect of apprehending and deporting undocumented immigrants, it's not unlikely that many of their American family members would also leave with them.

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